Mark McDermott

The return of Vicente Amigo

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One of the world’s great living guitarists plays Redondo Beach

Vicente Amigo plays at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on September 20. Photo by Sari Makki

by Mark McDermott

Music has coursed through Vicente Amigo since he was a child.

At age 3, he saw Paco De Lucia, the greatest flamenco guitarist of this age, playing on television. Something about the sound never again escaped him. As a boy growing up in Cordoba, Spain, he carried a guitar with him everywhere he went. No time and no place was not fit for music; he was an ethereal presence in whatever room he entered, always seemingly on the cusp of song. All he remembers of his childhood was playing guitar.

His passion did not go unnoticed. He started formal study of guitar when he was eight with maestros such as “El Merengue” (Rafael Rodríguez Fernández) and “El Tomate” (Juan Muñoz Expósito). At 15, the great Manolo Sanlucar took the boy on as an apprentice, and eventually the legendary singer El Pele took Amigo on tour. Music thereafter would carry Amigo from Spain all across the globe, where by his early 20s he’d shared stages with musicians of every kind, including David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Al Di Meola, and de Lucia.

Today Amigo is considered not only the greatest living flamenco guitarist but one of the great guitarists of any genre and any age. His is a lyricism beyond language. His is a virtuoso, but there is always something warmly human in his playing. And while he acknowledges that flamenco itself has been his greatest teacher, he is wary of speaking of music within the constraints and any genre.

“I do not believe in rules when it comes to music,” he has said. “I believe in what is natural. Music must come to you naturally and you should play what feels right to you.”

Amigo is careful to place flamenco alongside other living art forms, rather than have it classified as some mere musical curiosity.

“Flamenco is like all art,” he said in a 2012 visit to Redondo Beach, where he will again perform on September 20. “It transcends borders, it transcends cultures. Music, paintings, poetry, writing – it is the true universal language. It puts everyone in agreement, like any form of art. It is what every true artist aspires to – to create this universal language that unites everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s flamenco if it’s jazz, whatever genre.”

“I do not like to carry the flamenco flag,” he added. “I like to carry the flag of music, of art, of my feelings. It is what brings everyone together, into my world. I don’t expect an audience to know about flamenco. It is a question of expressing yourself….That is what art is: expressing yourself. And I prefer to speak about flamenco as art. It is not some weird creature with six legs.”

That said, Amigo is proud of flamenco’s lineage, both in its centuries’ long history as a music borne of a wandering people crossing continents as well as in the deep roots the music has developed in Spain, itself.

“It has to do with the Earth, with where I am from,” he said. “Like the grape comes from the Earth like the wine comes from the grape – wine is wine, music is music. The earth has a distinct taste from where it comes, so the music, from where it comes, has a distinct taste.”

“I can’t even tell you exactly where it comes from, this music. I don’t think anyone can tell you. I have played in Greece, India, the Orient, Africa, Arabia…I have played in Greece and heard musicians say it comes from there. It’s clear that it’s a mix. A big fusion. And that is very important, to me – that people mix. That means there is love when people mix together. Flamenco is love. Flamenco is pain.”

Music, Amigo says, is a means of conveyance by which to explore life.

“Follow the truth,” Amigo told KPFK during his last visit to the area. “Be true to oneself and to what is in your heart.”  

Vicente Amigo appears at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center (1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. Call 800-595-4849 or see www.kalakoa for more information and for tickets.

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